A visit to the Northwest Masonic Discussion page on Facebook is highly recommended to those with the luxury of time, some familiarity of the format, and the right machinery. For those who have none of the above, let this stand for a substitute! Recent conversations there, between Brothers from across our region, have covered the following topics: Whether UGLE is right to have participated in a documentary showing Blue Lodge degree work start to finish; whether one-day classes for Blue Lodge degrees in Ohio are a good idea; a call for papers from the Quator Coronati Conference; whether the use of technology (specifically, video-chatting over the internet) to practice degree work is a violation of secrecy; identifying vintage sterling Masonic calling-card cases as such; a brief history of anti-Masonry; and last, but not least, an open discussion of the meaning of “Temperance.” It is this last subject that inspired what follows here – a very brief look at Temperance as a Masonic Virtue.
Consider first these vices and the feelings associated with them: Injustice enrages. Cowardice disgusts. Imprudence agitates. When we find these vices in ourselves or others, a man does well to recognize and reject them – even though he sometimes might find space to excuse them, to feel sympathy with their origins. Certainly, it’s easy to see how any one of the three might spring from a place of heated rashness, sudden fearfulness or plain ignorance, and not necessarily from an evil or mean-spirited disposition. Admirable? Never. Unfortunate? Certainly. Contemptible? Not always. Brothers: what salvageable man has not experienced these conditions, and not regretted his actions after?
These vices, and their corresponding virtues, are fairly easy to grasp and explain – relatively speaking, of course. Most men instinctively value Justice because it is that which seems fair and right; Injustice, conversely, is whatever feels unfair, not right. Men also intuitively admire Fortitude, because they admire strength and steadfastness in the face of adversity; yet they naturally recoil from Cowardice, from flight in the face of adversity when others stay strong. And the Prudent man uses good judgment, is not hasty or unwise; while the Imprudent man doesn’t think – he acts first and suffers after.
Fair/Unfair. Brave/Cowardly. Deliberative/Foolish. All quite clear, at least in the general sense. But what of the Temperate man? Who is he, and how is he you? As an object of Masonic pursuit, Temperance may well be the most powerful of all virtues, and Intemperance the most dangerous vice. The questions for Masons today – indeed, the questions for all men – are these: What about Temperance is inherently valuable to men? What pertains to Intemperance that we reject?
The Facebook discussion page mentioned above entertains multiple views on this very subject. Some feel Temperance equals absolute moderation; a man ought not overindulge, especially in terms of intoxicants like alcohol. Intemperance here is embarrassing, disrespectful, and often dangerous to health, life and limb – one’s own and the public’s. Others feel Temperance is measured moderation; a man should generally avoid overindulgence, yet is not wrong to occasionally let his senses muddy a little bit in celebration or relaxation – safely and (as the French say) moderate in one’s moderation.
Intemperance for these brothers means overindulging too often and too much. Still others (including the author of this brief essay), find Temperance to be the ability to deny oneself something – anything – in order to attain a greater good or benefit. In the converse, Intemperance is unable to resist, unable to delay gratification. But the Temperate man restrains his rashness, masters his fear, and assumes (with humility) that he may be ignorant about the subject at hand. Thus, the Temperate man controls himself for the sake of Justice; he holds steady in the name of Fortitude; and he deliberates cautiously for Prudence. Temperance, for the Mason, may well be the ability to restrain oneself in pursuit of the other Cardinal Virtues – in which case, it is indispensable for them all.
All these views of Temperance and Intemperance are certainly on the right track. Of course, each man and Mason must explore this issue on his own. Hopefully, reading this has spurred thought about the virtue/vice of Temperance/Intemperance, which will in turn spur conversation leading to improvement for every man and Mason.